By Mary Pierce
Keith County News
Kassie and Matt Pelster of Elsie only have to look into the smiling face of their 10-year-old son, Blake, to see the benefits of blood and platelet donation.
“My husband and I are very thankful because we have a very ornery and happy 10-year-old right now,” she said.
Prior to Blake’s illness, Kassie had donated blood only once, but since seeing the lifesaving benefits of blood transfusions, she now is a regular blood and platelet donor.
“It saved my son’s life,” she said.
In December 2003, just days after turning 3, Blake was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocyte Leukemia. For the next three years, he received chemotherapy. In April 2007, Blake took the last dose of his oral medications.
While the family briefly celebrated his remission, the celebration lasted just five months. In September 2007, the disease was back and, this time, fighting it would prove to be an even bigger challenge.
Kassie said the family thought the battle with the first diagnosis was difficult, but “it really was a breeze.”
Treatment for the relapse included a more intense form of chemotherapy and many more inpatient hospital stays.
During the next three years, Blake was hospitalized numerous times in Children’s Hospital at Omaha, for not only chemotherapy treatments but also with numerous infections and fevers.
“At one point, we were going to Omaha weekly. We’d go down on Monday and come back on the weekends,” she said.
In March 2010, Blake received his last chemotherapy treatment. He returns to Omaha every three months for checkups.
The Pelster family eagerly awaits March, which will be the one-year point of Blake’s last chemotherapy treatment, and the odds increase that there will not be a relapse.
“We’re anxiously awaiting,” she said.
While the Pelster family acknowledges that the cancer-fighting drugs and treatments have given their son a second, and third, chance at life, they also are adamant about the important role blood and platelet transfusions made in their son’s recovery.
In 2004, after the original diagnosis and undergoing the first round of chemotherapy, Blake received 17 blood and platelet transfusions during an eight-month period.
After the relapse, and during the second and even more intense chemotherapy, Blake received approximately 80 transfusions of blood and platelets.
“Chemo takes the good with the bad,” Kassie said. “Transfusions were a weekly or twice weekly thing.”
Kassie said one particular incident really demonstrated the importance of platelet donation. During a doctor’s appointment for Blake at North Platte, the boy’s platelets were extremely low.
“One bump to his head could have made him bleed out,” Kassie said.
With no platelets available, Kassie remembered being scared as she drove home to Elsie.
“I was afraid to take him home,” she said.
Within 12 hours, platelets were available.
“I thought, wow, someone had to donate these,” she said.
Soon after, Kassie and other family members, as well as friends, had begun to donate. While Kassie still is not fond of needles, which is the top reason why people don’t donate, she said she has become a platelet donor and only focuses on the good it can bring to peoples’ lives.
“Besides, you get to lay on a cot with a heating pad, watch TV and they bring you sandwiches. As a mother of two, I don’t get to do that very often,” she said.
Kassie also has become an advocate and speaker for the American Red Cross, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society.
“Any way I can, I give back,” she said.
According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, and more than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day.
Cancer patients are major consumers of blood products and more than 1 million new people are diagnosed with cancer each year.
According to the American Red Cross, the No. 1 reason donors say they give blood is because they “want to help others.” The two most common reasons cited by people who don’t give blood are “Never thought about it” and “I don’t like needles.”
The American Red Cross supplies approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, including blood for patients in nearly 3,000 hospitals across the country.
Eighty percent of the blood donations given to the Red Cross are collected at mobile blood drives set up by community organizations, companies, high schools, colleges, places of worship or military installations. The remaining 20 percent are collected in fixed Red Cross donor centers.